Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834-1890)

Image: Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Argylls

From Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951:

“Born in Vienna, Austria, he was the son of Josef Daniel Böhm (1794–1865), court medallist, engraver, and director of the imperial mint at Vienna. Joseph (the younger) studied at Leigh’s art academy (later Heatherley’s) in London between 1848 and 1851, he then returned to Vienna, where he studied medal design and modelling at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste and then visited Italy and worked in Paris (1859-62).

On his marriage in 1862, Joseph settled in London using his European experience to establish a distinctive style. Portraiture was a central element of his practice and his sitters included William Makepeace Thackeray, James Whistler, John Ruskin, Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and Franz Liszt. Boehm also made some fifty-seven church monuments, including those in Westminster Abbey to Benjamin Disraeli (1881–3) and Arthur Stanley (1882–4).

In 1869 Boehm’s work attracted the attention of Queen Victoria which led to an association that lasted until his death in 1890. He received over forty royal commissions and gave lessons to Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s daughter. In 1880 he was appointed sculptor-in-ordinary to the queen and in 1889 was created a baronet. Among the works commissioned by the Queen were the effigies of her father, the duke of Kent (1872–4), and her daughter Princess Alice (1878–80), both in the Royal Mausoleum, Frogmore, Windsor.

Boehm also produced some fifty-seven public statues and monuments of which the most famous is the life-sized statue of Thomas Carlyle, Chelsea Embankment Gardens, London (1882). Other statues include: Field Marshal Sir John Fox Burgoyne (1877, Waterloo Place, London); John Bunyan (1872–4, St Peter’s Green, Bedford) and Sir Francis Drake (1882–3, Tavistock, Devon; 1882–4, The Hoe, Plymouth) and ‘Cupid and the Mermaid’ (1889). One of his most ambitious monuments, to the duke of Wellington (1884–8, Hyde Park Corner, London) was less successful and damaged his reputation.

He was elected a full Royal Academician in 1881. This was close to the date of his election to the academies in Rome and Florence in 1880 and 1881 respectively, and to the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna in 1890. There are examples of his work are in the Royal Collection; the Tate collection; the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; St George’s Chapel, Windsor; and Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral, London.”

From Wikipedia:

“Boehm’s most famous pupil was the Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, daughter of Queen Victoria. She was at his house, at 76 Fulham Road in London, when Boehm died suddenly on 12 December 1890, provoking press speculation about a sexual relationship between the two. According to historian Lucinda Hawksley, the two had a long-lasting love affair.”

Rachel Cooke wrote in her review of The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley (The Observer of 29.12.13):

“…It’s these whispers that make Lucinda Hawksley’s new biography such an intriguing prospect. In old age, Louise was just another of the batty Victorian relatives (copyright: the Duke of Windsor) who rattled around the great royal retirement home that was Kensington Palace. But as a young woman, her life was complicated and modern. Did the teenage Louise have a baby by Walter Stirling, the devoted tutor of her haemophiliac brother, Leopold? Did she enjoy a long love affair with Sir Joseph Boehm, the Queen’s sculptor in ordinary, a romance that only ended when he died as they made love in his London studio shortly before Christmas 1890? And was her husband, the Marquess of Lorne (later 9th Duke of Argyll), whom she married at the insistence of her mother in 1871, a homosexual whose night prowls she tried to prevent by bricking up the windows of her apartment?

Hawksley has answers to all these questions. In essence: yes, yes and yes. But her assertions are based on instinct, contemporary gossip and the matching up of dates, times and places rather than revelatory new documents. The princess’s files at the royal archives remain closed, while at Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Argylls, the family papers are strictly off-limits. Hawksley doesn’t waste precious time on the various ways she was thwarted, but the reader will consider this bizarre. Louise died in 1939; she had no legitimate children; the boy she purportedly gave up for adoption died in 1907. Why shouldn’t the truth come out? It’s not as if she murdered anyone.

What she did murder was the idea of what a princess should be…”

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